Persistent Scratching in Dogs – A Tip Sheet

Itchy Dog-

Consistent scratching can be stressful for both you and your dog. Scratching alone can lead to secondary infections or it can be a sign of a more serious issue. Here are a few tips that can help. As always, consult your veterinarian to make sure there are no contraindications with your pet.

  • Rule out parasites, especially fleas. Use a flea comb to check for fleas, flea eggs, and ticks. Should you find any, see your veterinarian for a safe and effective flea preventative and treatment. DO inform your veterinarian if you also have cats, as some preventatives and treatments can be very toxic to felines. Follow the instructions to the letter.
    • Vacuum regularly at home, including furniture. Launder your pet’s bedding weekly.
    • Consider using diatomaceous earth along the perimeter of your home and yard. Follow instructions carefully, while it’s non-toxic if consumed, it is harmful if inhaled. Diatomaceous earth can be found at many pet stores and lawn and garden centers.
    • Consider treating your yard with a product like Interrupt that contains beneficial nematodes that will consume flea larvae and other pests.
    • Parasites can vary by area. In some parts of the country flea preventative treatment is not necessary year round, while in warmer, humid climates it can be beneficial.
  • Check for rashes and fungal infections like ringworm. If found get your dog an appointment immediately. Ringworm is a HIGHLY contagious fungal infection and should be treated aggressively to avoid passing it back and forth among pets and humans. Mange is another skin issue that should be treated by your veterinarian. If anyone suggests using things like motor oil or coconut oil exclusively to solve mange issues. Run away. Quickly.
  • Bathe your dog using a gentle shampoo. This can ensure that you are removing any potential irritants from the coat. Dr. Bronner’s tea tree and peppermint formulas both provide a small amount of flea protection. Coconut based shampoos like Love Yer Dog and mild lines like Organic Oscar are also a good bet. Weekly bathing is typically the absolute maximum to avoid drying our your pet’s skin. In some cases, prescription shampoos can help to address skin issues. Avoid the following in shampoos:
    • Sodium Laurel or Laureth Sulfate (sulfates in general). Used primarily in lather production, lather is not necessary for effective cleaning. Sulfates can be irritating to skin and contribute to dryness.
    • Parabens – the jury is still out, but these anti bacterial agents may be harmful and aren’t necessary for good cleaning.
    • Phthalates – again, the jury is out on their safety in shampoos, but be on the safe side until we know more.
    • In general with non-prescription pet shampoos or when using human shampoos on your pets, stick with products with the fewest and most pronounceable ingredients.
  • What’s in your dog food? Dogs digestive systems can have a hard time processing things like corn, wheat, soy, and grains like rice. Consider a grain-free or limited ingredient diet to rule out food allergies. Most food sold in grocery stores and discount chains have ingredients that can be problematic for pets. Talk to the folks at your local independent pet food store who generally stay very up to date on developments in nutrition.
    Consider using a commercial raw diet as an elimination trial to test for food allergies before getting your pet a full panel allergy test. Try Primal Grinds for a few weeks to see if your dog improves. If so, food allergies could be the culprit. Reintroduce foods slowly if you can’t afford to keep your pet on a raw diet. If you decide to move back to dry, go with a limited ingredient option like Zignature.
  • Consider an omega fatty acid additive to your dog’s meal. Fish oils can be fantastic, we suggest rotating the type of fish on each new bottle. Sardine, salmon, and pollock oils are good options. Coconut, flax, or olive oils can also help. Supplements like Missing Link Veterinary Formula or PetKelp can also make a huge difference. You do want to make sure you check with the vet about how appropriate fish oils and supplements are for your dog, especially if your dog is diabetic or has thyroid issues. In some cases the additional iodine in fish oils and kelp might not be a good fit.
  • Thyroid problems can also cause skin issues. A blood panel should be considered to text thyroid function if diet and parasites have been ruled out. The good news is that medications for thyroid treatment are generally very affordable.
  • While some over the counter antihistamines are safe for use in dogs, absolutely, positively, consult with your vet BEFORE you administer them to your pets. While they can be a tool in your arsenal, there are serious side effects to consider. Some also can be purchased through your vet in a chewable form so you don’t have to wrestle a pill down your dog.
  • Just like humans, some dogs have serious allergies and may require medications like steroids to keep them managed. Allergy tests can be helpful and in some cases necessary to determine what is making your dog miserable. Talk to your vet about medication side effects and educate yourself on treatment options. Most vets are happy to make sure your pet is getting the right option. There is a caveat. Don’t believe everything you read on the internet. We encourage a holistic approach and many allergy problems can be solved at home, but not all can. Look for articles from sources that involve science! Not all home remedies are safe. Some do work, but some waste money and can harm your pet. If you don’t like your vet’s approach, for example you feel that they dismiss all home remedies, seek out a vet who encourages the safe and effective ones, but knows when it’s time to use pharmaceuticals.*All products mentioned are those we have seen work with our clients or our own pets. We have received no compensation for their mention.



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